2014 and 2015 brought us the two worst fire seasons in Washington state’s history. Our forests are vital to our communities here in Eastern Washington, especially those rural communities that rely on the industry forests provide.
Preventing fires begins with properly managing our natural resources, particularly our forests. I’m proud to lead efforts to ensure our forests are healthy and actively managed. For years, the U.S. Forest Service has warned us that our forests are in terrible shape – overgrown, with timber just waiting to be tinder for the next major fire. In the 114th Congress, I helped to pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which would prioritize forest management as a preventative measure and modernize the way we pay to fight catastrophic wildfires. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would cover additional costs, allowing Forest Service funds to be properly spent on forest management.
Also in 2015, I introduced the FORESTS Act, which would incentivize local collaboration and decision-making within our national forests. We’ve seen success with this type of local collaboration, as seen in the Colville National Forest A-Z Project. The project is the first of its kind: a public-private partnership to expand maintenance and treatment of the Colville National Forest and to increase local economic output through privately funded projects. The project has the potential to be the model for how local companies and nonprofits can work with government agencies to maintain healthy national forests. The benefits to the Colville National Forest and to the local economy are numerous.
I am also committed to fixing the budgetary issues facing the Forest Service and providing the necessary resources to ensure that our forests are actively managed. When not actively managed, undergrowth, dead trees, plants, and disease make our forests far more susceptible to catastrophic wildfire.
This year, I’ve been continuing my efforts to help get our forests working again so they can continue to provide economic benefit to our rural communities that rely on them. In February, the Congresswoman hosted a roundtable discussion for the launch of the Congressional Working Forests Caucus to discuss how the nation’s forests can create jobs and grow the economy, and how tax policy impacts timber production on federal forests. She believes that with long term investment, unique opportunities can be brought back to these rural communities throughout the country.
In March, I joined Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) in introducing the Timber Innovation Act, bipartisan legislation to support innovation in the timber industry and to incentivize active forest management. This legislation would open up new markets and create jobs for rural economies by providing research, assistance, and lower costs for the construction of tall wood buildings throughout the United States. It also encourages the use of cross laminated timber (CLT), which will provide new markets for the production of advanced wood buildings throughout Eastern Washington.
Unfortunately, over the past few decades, timber production has drastically fallen on federal lands. This has devastated the tax base and virtually eliminated revenue sharing for essential services. Reforms are needed to better take care of our forests and get people back to work. In the meantime, certainty needs to be provided to our counties. That’s why in May, I introduced legislation to extend the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. Nearly 100 years ago, Congress passed legislation to specify that 25 percent of revenues from timber harvests on federal lands would be shared with affected counties. These funds went to public schools, roads, and other municipal needs.As timber production began to fall, the SRS program was implemented in 2000 to renew this commitment to timberlands and to those who live in them. While we work toward active forestry reforms to get our federal forests working again, we must still provide certainty for our counties. This bill will help provide that certainty by ensuring the extension of the SRS program, which aids affected counties with essential services, funding for public education, and infrastructure maintenance.